Monday the 10th of May was an evening that might as well be described as a microcosm of the Hurricanes’ Experience. Within the space of a couple of hours the highs and lows that the team can produce were experienced in visceral detail, and they hadn’t even played a game.
First, the good news: All Black halfback, Canes captain and all round Wellington legend TJ Perenara was set to bin his rumoured switch to the NRL’s Sydney Roosters and make a much-needed return home.
Then the bad: All Black second five Ngani Laumape, Palmerston North born and the most hard-hitting runner New Zealand rugby has seen in years, was leaving to start a new journey with French glamour club Stade Francais.
While Laumape probably won’t be missed much by the guys tasked with marking him in the often brutal Super Rugby Aotearoa schedule, it should have reduced the Canes’ coaching staff and back office to tears.
In an era when most gameplans look entirely interchangeable, Laumape offered something no other team had at either end of the field. On one hand, he could be counted on to score or at least be involved in some stunning tries, but just as importantly could get the Hurricanes out of a jam if they were pinned in their 22 by simply barging his way upfield enough to give them ample room to clear.
And the most galling thing for the Hurricanes is that Laumape’s lucrative exit to Paris really has nothing to do with them as an organisation.
You didn’t need to be psychic to see the increasing and somewhat warranted frustration about a lack of opportunities in the All Blacks, seemingly exacerbated by Ian Foster’s ‘business as usual’ approach since taking over as coach last year.
Laumape made his debut in the second test against the British & Irish Lions in Wellington in 2017, coming off the bench after Sonny Bill Williams’ red card caused an earlier than expected backline reshuffle. Since then the crowded midfield picture has seen him only play 15 tests and most notably miss selection for the 2019 World Cup.
It’s not like this is the first time the Hurricanes have found themselves flung into disarray at the whim of the national side.
That’s the bit that has apparently stung the most – again, a pretty valid feeling given the way the All Blacks couldn’t find any way through an English defence in their doomed semi-final.
But it’s not like this is the first time the Hurricanes have found themselves flung into disarray at the whim of the national side.
Just as coach John Plumtree had got settled, he was plucked away to be Foster’s assistant in the All Blacks. This was of course hot on the heels of Beauden Barrett’s defection to the Blues, so at the beginning of 2020 it seemed like everything had fallen apart for the 2016 champions.
Then, late last year, Perenara announced he’d be missing the next Super Rugby Aoteroa season to head to Japan, so given that Dane Coles is in the twilight of his career and isn’t likely to start every single game, that only left Laumape and Jordie Barrett as the team’s bonafide game-breakers.
So now the spotlight goes on the youngest Barrett brother, who is currently off contract.
Jordie, along with Laumape, was the shining light for the team in their disappointing 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign – even getting to the point where the crowd were chanting his name whenever he’d attempt a trademark monster penalty goal.
Jordie has already been linked with moves to the Crusaders and Blues in the past few seasons, so expect that narrative to be ramped up again in the next few months. The Blues haven’t even been shy about their desire for him to join brother Beauden at Eden Park, either.
Test centurion Owen Franks is all but confirmed to be on the books for next season, but honestly that says more about Super Rugby now being a place for a guy like that to come back and squeeze one or two last seasons out of a 34-year-old body.
Along with Perenara, the traffic going in the other direction is at least flowing, to put a positive spin on it.
Test centurion Owen Franks is all but confirmed to be on the books for next season, but honestly that says more about Super Rugby now being a place for a guy like that to come back and squeeze one or two last seasons out of a 34-year-old body. Tallest All Black of all time Dom Bird joins them in 2022 after several years at Racing 92, which will form a very blue collar second row alongside re-signed Scott Scrafton and James Blackwell.
Julian Savea seemed an odd choice to bring back given the potential of Salesi Rayasi, but at least he has experience in what could quickly become an extremely young backline if Jordie does leave (at one stage the inside back pairing this season was Ruben Love and Cam Roigard, combined age 39).
But it seems that right now, one of the Hurricanes’ biggest issues is simply being an attractive place for promising and established outside talent to come to. Wellington’s house and rental prices are astronomically high and very off-putting for anyone, let alone a newly minted professional rugby player, plus the fact that the team’s identity has definitely slipped back from being genuine contenders to genuine rebuilders.
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